No surprises from Siddle
Ho, hum, they chewed selectorial gum. John Inverarity, Rodney Marsh, Darren Lehmann - three wise men in search of something hitherto unseen for a half dozen years, a team to beat the English. And boy did they come up with a bolter, a fellow so wet behind the ears that most of crowd didn't know he was born.
Agar, Ashton Agar.
What, say that again would you, Agar's Plough was it?
No, that's a cricket field at Eton College but it is a cricket reference, which is a start. No, this is a young man's name, Ashton Charles Agar, and he is playing for Australia today.
Really? Two spinners, wow the Aussies haven't done that since Warney and McGiller were at each other's throats.
No, no, just one spinner, Agar.
You jest. What about, er, you know, thingamajig, Xavier is it? Xavier Doherty. No wait, I've got it, Nathan, Nathan Hauritz, isn't it?
No, he's long gone. It's Nathan Lyon you're thinking of.
That's it. Nathan Lyon - 76 wickets at 33 - that's the one. Not bad either.
They dropped him. They picked Ashton Agar, who is 19 years old.
And they did. Australia picked a second-generation Aussie of a Sri Lankan mother and an Australian father. Tall, slim, with a handsome look and a charming smile, he was given his cap in a team huddle by Glenn McGrath. Nice touch. At least they could look at each other eye to eye. Agar plays for Western Australia. He is a real talent with the ball and can bat and field too. Definitely a good choice. But not necessarily now. Now was a risk. A few long hops in the middle of the afternoon session betrayed as much. Michael Clarke stood at slip wondering if he had cocked up his decision to abdicate the selection panel.
When Agar was first tossed the ball, desperation was in the air. Alastair Cook had wafted at a wide one but Joe Root and Jonathan Trott were smacking boundaries. That was from the balls they could reach. Mitchell Starc sprayed it around like a greenhorn. There is something reticent about Starc. It is as if the enormity of the occasion overwhelms him. The captain might do well to tell him to bowl fast and damn the consequences. Some times that releases the devil in a man. At worst, it means he will get through his action.
James Pattinson had been better but not by a mile. Pattinson's good deliveries are beauties but his bad ones are ugly in the extreme. In contrast to Starc, the trick with Pattinson is to get him to slow himself down, so that rhythm rather than force controls his bowling. Perhaps the amphetamines and beta blockers were put under the wrong door.
But the real surprise was Peter Siddle. He never sprays it around but he did this morning. One ball to Trott was memorable for it awfulness, so wide was it of leg stump and on half-volley length. Trott is good there, the legs, so it went the way of many others, for four. At lunch England had 98 and though Root had fallen to a surprise straight ball, Kevin Pietersen was all confidence and evident concentration. Had someone said that 12 wickets were about to fall, they would have been consigned.
Siddle got four of them, to go with the straight one to Root. Immediately after lunch he drew Pietersen into a mistake. Good bowling rather than bad batting. Suddenly he found his line and,in that hustle and bustle way of his, the magic returned. From wide on the crease, he conned Trott into a shocker. From close to the stumps, he found Ian Bell's outside edge. He had a hat-trick in Brisbane the last time the teams met in an Ashes series, so there are no illusions. Matt Prior was amongst that hat-trick and now he collared Prior again, caught at cover of all places, to complete a mighty quintet - Root, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior. Great job, mate.
Put simply, there is nothing that substitutes for a big heart. The worse the situation, the more likely big-hearted "Sid" will do something about it. There isn't much to it, he just keeps coming, each ball a verification of the one previous. There's a huff and a puff and occasionally a house is blown down but in the main he is a shire horse, one for the hard yards. The flatter the pitch, the more you want "Sid" on your side. He is neither a swing bowler nor an extravagant seamer of the ball. He is steady though not pinpoint accurate and he is sharp enough but not quick. In Adelaide last November, he almost beat South Africa single-handedly. Throughout a long, hot day and on the kindest surface to batsmen, Australia were a seamer light after injury to Pattinson. There was no swing, seam or spin but the strong Victorian never yielded, to pitch or opposition. After the final ball of the match and with the draw secured by Faf du Plessis, Siddle sunk to his haunches, foam at his mouth, body drenched and done.
Before play today, a story floated that the three wise men were to leave him out of the team. He had started the tour slowly and Jackson Bird was in good form. The rumour was exaggerated with the Agar news and the notion that two spinners were a runner. But the selectors are wiser than wise. Siddle played and acknowledged their faith. By his own admission he started poorly - "four overs of dross" he said - but a change of ends, a bit of luck and a wicket soon had him sorted. He will probably make a few runs too. He is that sort.
If Agar needed a lesson in Test match cricket he got it today. In part from the absurdity of the scoreboard and in part from his colleague, Peter Siddle. It is a game of small margins, little sympathy and unpredictable swings in fortune. The best you can do is narrow it down, stay patient and give it everything you have - leave nothing out there, as they say. It may be that Agar has a lifetime of it to come. It may be that his 15 minutes is here at Trent Bridge. Either way, he will not forget his first day as a Test match cricketer and the Herculean example set by the bloke who knows nothing more than a hard day's work and the reward it can bring.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK